Turning the corner

Out and about: Jasni and Wan Khalijah enjoying lunch with their children at the Sungai Buloh rest and service area. — ART CHEN/The Star

When interstate travel restrictions were lifted earlier this month, highways in the Klang Valley saw a steady rise in the number of vehicles, with some taking the opportunity to go out of state during the holiday season.

It was a welcome sight for stall operators at the Sungai Buloh rest and service area as they had been struggling before this.

A check by StarMetro over a weekend at noon revealed that almost all the stalls at the rest area along the North-South Expressway were in operation.

Facilities such as the washrooms and surau were open, but the gazebos outside the main building remained off limits to visitors.

Father-of-three Jasni Ahmad, 45, and wife Wan Khalijah Meor Mohd Tahir, 38, from Damansara Damai, Selangor were spotted having a meal with their children at a restaurant.

The couple decided to spend time as a family at the rest and service area as the government did away with the limit on the number of passengers in a car.

Jasni said they were not travelling out of Klang Valley and only came to the Sungai Buloh rest stop to eat.

“My wife suggested that we take our children out for lunch because they had been cooped up at home for too long.

“We like coming to this place because it is near our house.

“It also offers a scenic view of the highway below from the restaurant in the overhead bridge, which we enjoy, ” he added.

Another visitor, who only wanted to be known as Fazli, 30, said the lifting of the interstate travel ban was timely.

“Although the Covid-19 pandemic is not over yet, there is a need to strike a balance between ensuring public health safety and economic recovery, ” he noted.

“The government must think about the stall owners and workers at the rest and service areas, who struggled financially because there were fewer customers.

“As long as everyone sticks to the standard operating procedures, I don’t see why we cannot allow domestic travel, ” Fazli said.

Foot traffic had dwindled when the conditional movement control order came into effect in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur on Oct 14, causing business here to nosedive.

The conditional MCO was implemented because there was a spike in the number of Covid-19 cases in both states.

Visitors were few and far between and the food court remained largely empty.

“Before the travel restrictions, many buses ferrying passengers to their hometowns stopped here on their way to the northern states, ” said a stall worker, Aida Roslan, 25.

“But many parking bays were empty during the restriction period, as not many people stopped here then.”It was a grim picture as prior to this, the place would usually be bustling with people looking for a bite to eat or simply to take a break during peak hours, especially at lunch and dinner times.

With interstate travel allowed from Dec 7, stall operators here saw a chance for business to recover.

“Since then, there has been a gradual increase in visitors but I also notice an increase in the number of people preferring takeaway meals to dining in, ” Aida said.

She said that her stall closed at 9pm when travel restrictions were in place.

She added that her stall would extend its operating hours if PLUS Expressways Bhd required the stalls to stay open longer.

Another worker, Ayu Aswan, 25, said many stalls closed early when the interstate travel restrictions were in effect, due to a lack of customers.

“Most stalls here usually close after 10pm to accommodate motorists who need to stop, rest and eat later.

“This was not the case during the interstate travel ban, so many stalls would close around 7pm. They also prepared less food, ” she noted.

“But the number of customers is picking up again with interstate travel permitted, so maybe we will extend our operating hours.”

PLUS corporate, community and public engagement head Syed Mohammad Idid said all its rest and service areas had resumed operations during the recovery MCO in June.

“The opening time is between 6am and 7am while closing time is between 10pm and midnight, depending on the location of the rest and service area, ” he elaborated.

He said the highway concessionaire expected to see a spike in the number of road users travelling from the Klang Valley to other states on weekends.

“Road users are advised to plan their journey beforehand.

“They are encouraged to download the PLUS app to help determine their toll cost and if necessary, top up their cashless payment method before passing through the toll booths.

“The app is also equipped with a pre-order function, which allows users to order food beforehand and just pick up their items at selected rest and service areas, ” Syed Mohammad explained.

“Additionally, the PLUS app’s unique real-time interface chat box system can help users plan their journey, ” he said and reminded visitors to abide by the safety measures in place at the rest and service areas.

This includes registering with the MySejahtera app, recording body temperature, wearing a face mask and practising physical distancing.

Visitors who want to use the surau must bring their own prayer mat and telekung (prayer shawl).

PLUS currently operates 29 rest and service areas, which include overhead bridge restaurants, and 50 lay-bys along 1,130km of highways.

Sungai Buloh rest and service area entrance attendant Karimah Deka, 35, said she expected more visitors in the coming weeks.

“Although more people are stopping by the area now, the increase is only modest so far, ” she said.

Meanwhile, Irfan Kamil, 28, who was travelling to Penang for work, said the reduced foot traffic was a welcome change.

“I feel a lot safer as there is less contact among visitors. I also did not have to queue up to order food.

“The place was not like this before, which was usually very crowded.

“But I expect larger crowds during the holiday and festive seasons, ” he said.

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